In 2012, when Barack Obama and Mitt Romney were on the ballot, more than a million Nevadans voted in the general election, and Obama won the state.
In 2014, when no presidential candidates were on the ballot, roughly half as many Nevadans turned out to vote, and Democrats were crushed.
In 2016, Democrats turned out, Catherine Cortez Masto kept Harry Reid’s Senate seat Democratic, and Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump in Nevada.
In 2018, Nevada Democrats are determined not to repeat the voter drop-off they suffered in the last midterm election four years ago. And their efforts got a boost Monday when former President Barack Obama came to town.
“In the last midterm, only one out of four eligible young people voted. That makes no sense,” Obama said. “This election is more important than any other of our lifetime, and that includes the ballots I was on.”
Monday, Obama had a message for a crowd of 2,000 people at the Cox Pavilion at UNLV: Republicans are counting on them to sit out another election. “Those in power want you to feel cynical,” he added. “They want you not to vote.”
When not dividing the country in an effort to keep people home on Election day, Republicans have tried to suppress the vote, Obama said, referencing various states where voter rolls are being purged. “Those with power and privilege will fight hard to keep what they’ve got.”
He talked about the anxiety many are facing, mentioned policies that have undone progress under Republican rule, and named the people in power responsible, which prompted the crowd to boo.
Obama pulled out an oldie. “Don’t boo,” he said.
And the crowd responded: “Vote.”
“Booing doesn’t do anything,” he added. “Hashtags are nice, but they don’t do anything. Vote.”
The country, he told the crowd, was on the trajectory of progress before Trump became president. “When you hear all this talk about economic miracles right now, remember who started it,” he said.
“Unlike some, I actually believe in facts,” Obama added.
Obama blasted tax cuts passed by the Republican-controlled Congress and signed by Trump for predominantly favoring the wealthy and exploding the deficit — a growing deficit that is not in turn being cited by Republicans as an excuse to cut Social Security and Medicare earned benefits.
And Obama took Republicans to task for their efforts to weaken and repeal the Affordable Care Act even though many Republican voters in red states rely heavily on it
“You can bet on anything in Vegas,” he said. “You don’t wanna bet on Republicans protecting your health care.”
All roads lead back to voting, Obama said.
“The balance of power is going back to you, the American people,” he said. “The only one real check to the abuse of power, the only one real check to bad policies, is you and your vote.”
In addition to encouraging Nevadans to vote, and vote for Democrats, Obama also encouraged people to vote for Question 5, the ballot initiative which would establish automatic voter registration when people get their drivers license or state ID.
“When you vote,” Obama said, “good things happen.”
And Nevadans have been voting.
More than 111,000 people turned out in the first three days of early voting, according to the secretary of state’s office, with Democrats having built a roughly 7,200-vote edge over Republicans.
That is in stark contrast to the roughly 44,000 votes cast in the first three days of early voting in the 2014 midterm election.
Democrats argue that they are poised to win as long as voters turn out. Democrats have a large advantage over Republicans among the key millennial voting bloc, having increased their lead by over 27,000 voters aged 18-34 since the last midterm election.
Outside the Cox Pavilion where Obama spoke Monday, party volunteers roamed with clipboards asking rally attendees to sign up for volunteer shifts in an effort turn out voters.
“Go vote today,” yelled a chorus of volunteers.
Booths lined the sidewalk selling buttons, Obama souvenirs, and shirts with designs from the Women’s March. Michelle Okake, 20, and her friend Adora Nwokike, 20, perused the booths. Nwokike said she is one of those Nevadans who has already voted; Okake vowed that she was going to vote “soon.”
“It was good. I feel energized,” Nwokike said.
With an image of Obama over a white t-shirt, Valerie Ngayan, 21, exited the rally and declared she was on her way to vote Monday afternoon. Ngayan described herself as a “proud American” but noted that she is also the daughter of an immigrant.
“I think one of the main things that has been affecting the Latino community is the racism we are going through right now with president Trump’s administration,” said Ngayan. “I believe in making a change for everybody, and that’s why I’m here.”
While waiting for Obama to exit the building a young group of supporters took photos with gubernatorial candidate Steve Sisolak before frantically waving at a caravan of police vehicles and a black SUV that exiting the pavilion gate.
“I bet that wasn’t even Obama,” one young supporter said.